Text message

ICYMI: SMS turns 20

On Dec. 3, 1992, engineer Neil Papworth sent the first short message service (SMS) message to Richard Jarvis at Vodaphone. It said, “Merry Christmas,” and there was no method for replying.

In the 20 years since, texting has become ubiquitous in the mobile world, for personal and even mass communication. In 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama announced Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate via text message, considered a cutting-edge use of technology.

Commercial use of text messaging caught on quickly and kept increasing in use. But the government workplace was much slower to adopt it, mostly because early SMS encryption was rather weak and its use was optional. Even today, CSO Online reports, when a flaw in mobile security is exposed, it seems the nature of SMS is at least partly to blame, as in recent attacks against iPhone users. SMS also has been found being used in spoofing attacks aimed at Twitter users, according to InformationWeek.

In lieu of SMS, many government agencies have adopted text messaging, but through internal service appliances and cloud-based workspaces. SMS is still used when the security doesn’t matter, like when NASA sends out International Space Station viewing alerts. But whether they are using SMS or some other method, government users are still texting quite a bit.

So, Messrs. Papworth and Jarvis, Merry Christmas, and Happy Anniversary, to you too!

To read more about the early years of SMS, check this London Telegraph article.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Dec 04, 2012 at 9:39 AM0 comments

Army lightweight charger

Army puts lightweight battery chargers into the field

Even when soldiers are deployed into places with no existing power grid, they need to have their notebooks, tablets and smart phones charged up and ready to go. But batteries are heavy, and requiring soldiers to carry their own batteries for recharging might not make the most sense.

A team of Army engineers at the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command in Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., is on the case. 

Engineers are working on chargers with both USB ports and AC plugs that connect to military standard batteries. Since these batteries are likely already going to be requisitioned at a forward base for a variety of uses, having a much lighter recharging hub that uses them makes a whole lot of sense.

The team is making models with two, four or eight USB ports -- and they’ll be able to charge as many devices simultaneously as they have ports -- in addition to a single AC power plug. Because the chargers will weigh mere ounces compared to the pounds that a battery weighs, they are more portable. An eight-port charger for smart phones weighs 2.5 ounces; a two-port charger that works with both smart phones and tablets weighs 1.8 ounces. And a battery such as the BB-2590 can recharge a smart-phone battery 37 times before it needs recharging itself.

The team has developed chargers for smart phones and tablets and is working on a 150-watt charger with an AC adapter for charging all commercially available laptops, the Army said.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Dec 03, 2012 at 9:39 AM0 comments

Microsoft Surface Pro

Will Microsoft's Surface Pro be worth the price?

Microsoft has announced the starting price for its Surface Pro at $899, with availability in early 2013. This model might sound expensive, especially compared with the $499 starting price for the Surface with Windows RT. And even more so when considering that the RT Surface is too expensive to begin with.

Let’s examine that last part first. The introductory Surface with RT had an NVIDIA Tegra 3 Processor and a 32G hard drive, both of which were just adequate for the job. And they’re only adequate because Windows RT can only run the pre-installed software (Internet Explorer and a version of Office) and what was available to it from the Windows Store. Yet it is priced the same as fully-functioning tablets offered by competitors. No wonder it’s not available in stores -- customers can only get it straight from Microsoft.

Now, admittedly, the basic-level Surface Pro will have major improvements for this new, higher price. It will have an Intel Core i5 processor and 4G of memory (twice as much as the RT model) and a 64G hard drive. These make Surface Pro’s  performance almost twice that of Surface RT. Microsoft even upped the full-sized USB port (the thing I’ve praised the Surface for the most) to USB 3.0. The Surface Pro also will have a digital pen interface and “palm-block” technology, which the company claims will allow pen users to rest their hand on the device while writing with the pen. 

Agencies thinking of moving to Windows 8 and adopting the tablet form would likely want the Pro version.

But I still don’t know what Microsoft is thinking here. At first I didn’t know why it decided to release the hobbled RT version at all; my guess is somewhere down the line Redmond realized that the full version wasn’t going to be out by the end of the year, so this RT version was released to get some Christmas money. But if Microsoft wanted to maximize holiday sales of Surface RT, why announce that full version is coming at the very beginning of the holiday season? It’s anyone’s guess.

At any rate, if the new Surface does everything Microsoft says it will do, then it will be a good product. However, $899 might be too steep to wrest any market share away from its competitors.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Nov 30, 2012 at 9:39 AM2 comments